Three Harrisburg football players were part of a historic day on Wednesday, which was more commonly known as “National Signing Day” in the college football world. The Bulldogs had three players sign National Letters of Intent with the Central Methodist University football team, becoming the first products of the Harrisburg football program to move on and play college football. Pictured above at the signing are (front row) seniors Tyler McMahan, Cody Adams and Austin Horn. Harrisburg head coach Travis Kinkade (back row, right) joined his players at the ceremony, as did assistant coach Mason Hardin (back row, left). Hardin became the first Harrisburg graduate to play college football when he signed with William Jewell College in 2009.
The following story was first published in the Feb. 7 issue of the Democrat-Leader in Fayette.
By Greg Jackson
It was already going to be a groundbreaking day at Central Methodist University.
For the first time ever, the Eagles brought the excitement of National Signing Day directly to their campus on Wednesday. The football coaching staff invited the 2015 signing class to come to campus and be a part of one big signing ceremony, something that had not been done before in college football.
That alone was a groundbreaking step, yet it wasn’t the only “first” of its kind that day.
The Harrisburg football program was also celebrating a big step in its young history. Three Bulldog seniors arrived at the ceremony in Fayette and signed their National Letters of Intent with Central Methodist.
Cody Adams, Austin Horn and Tyler McMahan became the first college football signees who were products of the Harrisburg program, still in its infancy after completing its second season overall and first varsity campaign this past fall.
“It was really cool,” Adams said. “I feel on top of the world. I got to do this with a bunch of my friends, my family was all here and I also got to meet a lot of new people that I’ll be playing football with in the fall. I’m looking forward to it.”
Central Methodist had a total of 21 players come to campus to sign with the Eagles. Typically, on National Signing Day, players sign their Letters of Intent at their respective high schools and fax them to their future college coach. Wednesday’s on-campus ceremony allowed Eagles head coach Jody Ford to get a look at the group of players that will be arriving on campus for practice in August.
“I just thought this made sense,” Ford said. “It’s so hard to get to 50 different schools and do the signings there. A lot of the players are pretty close (to Fayette), so we decided to bring them all here.”
The Eagles signed many local seniors, including a few from the Lewis & Clark Conference. Slater’s Cole Skinner signed with the Eagles at the ceremony and Paris’ Kyle Popkes and Slater Stone inked with Central Methodist later that afternoon.
Most players lived within an hour of Fayette, but a couple of players had to travel quite a bit. One player made the trip from Kansas City and another even came from out of state, making the four-hour drive from Nebraska City, Neb., to sign his Letter of Intent.
Following an introduction from Central Methodist president Roger Drake, vice president Ken Oliver and athletic director Brian Spielbauer, players came up one by one with their families and friends to sign their letters with Ford. After signing and receiving a round of applause from the audience, they made their way to the press table and had a quick one-on-one interview with the sports information staff. The event was broadcast live on cmueagles.com.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking at first,” Horn said of signing with the Eagles on a live broadcast. “But once you got in, it was pretty awesome.”
The smiles were pretty big on each recruit’s face, but a few people in the crowd had even bigger smiles and a lot of pride: the parents and the high school football coaches.
Harrisburg football head coach Travis Kinkade is no stranger to college football, having attended Missouri Western State University on a football scholarship. Now he participates in National Signing Day in a different capacity, watching players take the next step in their college careers as a coach.
“I think they are as prepared as they can be,” Kinkade said. “We really tried to do a good job of teaching them the fundamentals. It will be interesting to see how they develop over the next four years, as football players, young men and students.”
Adams, Horn and McMahan represent the first class of Harrisburg football players to sign with a college program. However, they aren’t the first Harrisburg graduates who will play college football. Mason Hardin, a 2009 Harrisburg graduate, didn’t have the luxury of attending a high school with a football program, but that didn’t stop him from signing with William Jewell College. He is currently an assistant coach on Kinkade’s staff and attended the signing ceremony as well.
The three players have taken some big steps since Harrisburg started its football program in 2013. That season, the Bulldogs played a junior varsity schedule. This past fall, Harrisburg played its first year as a varsity program. And this upcoming fall season, all three will advance to the collegiate level, whether it’s with the Eagles at the varsity or JV level.
“I think it says that we’re moving in the right direction,” McMahan said of the players’ rapid growth in a short period of time.
Kinkade said his three players have a lot to offer the Eagles. Adams, an offensive lineman, has become a great verbal leader and has been a great communicator. Horn missed the entire 2014 football season after suffering an ACL injury during the summer, but his head coach said he is a great kid who will battle his way back to get on the field in the fall as a wide receiver. And although McMahan has a slightly undersized frame for a running back at the college level, he is a tough kid who never complains and gives it all he has, Kinkade said.
Ford said he looks forward to having Adams, Horn and McMahan join the Eagles’ family, not just for the next four years, but the next 20 or 30 years.
The three players leave behind a family they helped create in Harrisburg, one that some thought may never come to fruition. Unlike many signees, they crammed their high school football careers into two seasons, learning so much in so little time.
“It seems like yesterday was our first JV game,” Horn said. “We fast-forward two years and here I am today.”